BILLS - Parliamentary Joint Committee on the Australia Fund Bill 2018 - Second Reading

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (11:15): I thank Senator Burston for raising the proposal to set up a parliamentary committee to inquire into the Australia Fund. From listening to the previous speaker, I have no idea of what the Labor approach to this particular bill is. Whilst we had a very interesting discussion on the banking royal commission, it's not germane to the debate before the parliament. It always amazes me how the Senate has standing orders and rules, and senators bring matters forward for debate, but some senators completely ignore the debate before the chamber and talk about matters that are completely irrelevant to the debate. For this reason, I often wonder why the Senate bothers with standing orders that are never followed or enforced.

Notwithstanding that, this debate on the proposal to set up an Australia Fund is an important debate and, again, I indicate my appreciation to Senator Burston for raising the matter. I might note in passing, though, that the leader of the party that he now represents brought forward a similar bill in the House of Representatives in 2014, when Mr Palmer was a member of the lower house; he was the member for Fairfax at the time. These matters were fully investigated at that time. Part of the proposal for the Australia Fund is to allow rural manufacturing businesses in Australia to continue operating through times of crisis, such as natural disasters and global financial downturns. The previous speaker spoke a little bit about the drought—not much, but she did raise the drought, and I'm glad she raised it, because I've just driven to Canberra via the drought affected shires of Queensland and New South Wales. Over a period of five days I spoke to most of the councils in Queensland that have been subjected to this horrendous drought. I'm very pleased to say—and I take some credit!—that in most of the northern shires that were impacted by drought it was pouring rain as I arrived. So I do, in the best Joh Bjelke-Petersen style, claim that I actually brought the rain with me! Of course, those areas do need a lot more rain; the drought isn't over. But almost unanimously, the councils that represent those areas were appreciative of the work the government had done to help those in need. They understand that governments can't affect the drought. They understand that governments can't make it rain—although I tried to pretend that I could! But they do acknowledge that in these times of crisis the government, including the Queensland and New South Wales state governments, have been very generous in the support they've given. A number of matters were raised with me as to where improvements could be made, and they're matters I'll be talking about at a later time.

I would point out that the government is establishing a $5 billion future drought fund that guarantees support against future droughts faced by farmers and communities in rural and regional Australia, and it's important that not only farmers but also regional communities are considered. Too often, in years gone by, drought relief was given to people on the land without considering the impact of droughts on the communities—on the people in those communities who are not farmers but who support the farmers, help the council create infrastructure, help the hospital and health services to continue operation and help in educating the young people of the community. This future drought fund being established by the Liberal-National government will be setting up guaranteed support against future drought faced by farmers and communities. The future drought fund starts with an initial $3.9 billion investment each year, and $100 million in earnings will be available to be used to fund important water infrastructure and drought resilience projects while the balance is ploughed back into the fund so it grows to $5 billion over the next decade.

I emphasise that this fund will help to fund important infrastructure projects. Regrettably our opponents in this chamber, the Labor Party, because they are beholden to the Greens political party for political support in this and various state parliaments, will never become involved in water infrastructure projects. That's a great shame. Our government funds feasibility studies into water infrastructure possibilities, but we always acknowledge that, under the Constitution, rivers and streams, except where they cross state boundaries, are the province and the responsibility of state governments, and so only state governments can decide to build dams. We have the difficult situation in my state of Queensland where the state government, because it's in power due to the support of the Greens political party, who don't like any form of water management schemes, will not agree to any dams. We promised to build the Rookwood Weir near Rockhampton. After great work by the local member there, Michelle Landry, the state government refused to answer anything and refused to comment for a number of months. It was only as the state election was approaching that they finally agreed that a weir could be build—the Rookwood Weir on the Dawson River, funded by the federal government—and reluctantly put in some funds to match the federal government. But that's the only way we can get any action out of a government that relies on the Greens, who oppose dams, for support. We are very conscious that this future drought fund will have an important water infrastructure role, and I think Senator Burston and Mr Palmer would be grateful for that approach, because I think they both understand the importance of water infrastructure as part of drought resilience in the drier parts of Australia. The challenges of a drought vary from farm to farm, district to district and town to town. The government continually needs to adapt and build capacity to support those communities, and the future drought fund will do just that.

The proposal by Senator Burston and his party also relates to research into things that might help in Australia. I remind the Senate that the Morrison government has created the Medical Research Future Fund, another sovereign body which is specifically designed to supercharge the growth of our health and medical research industry while fuelling jobs, economic growth and export potential. In addition to that, the Australia Fund proposed by Senator Burston relates to manufacturing, but the government has already invested in key measures to ensure people working in manufacturing are supported as industry changes. I remind the Senate that the government has established the $100 million Advanced Manufacturing Fund, the $238 million Industry Growth Centre Initiative and the $90 billion continuous shipbuilding industry.

Just pausing for a moment, for a long time Australia has lamented its ability to have a long-term shipbuilding industry. I remember in the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd years that the Labor Party did absolutely nothing to support the shipbuilding industry in Australia. Since the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government was defeated, we've had a lot of complaints from Labor about things that they never did, but this government, the Liberal-National government, has established a $90 billion continuous shipbuilding industry which won't just build ships but will train Australians in the finest trades relating to all aspects of shipbuilding. I envisage that in years to come we'll be exporting some of our skilled tradesmen to go and help other countries in shipbuilding programs. It's a wonderful program, it's a huge program, and it will give Australia a decent, ongoing and sustainable shipbuilding industry for many years into the future.

We are seeing the measures that the government has introduced actually work. The total number of people employed in the manufacturing sector in Australia is now 978,000. In fact, over 93,100 new manufacturing jobs were created in the 12 months to August 2018. So, whilst this bill talks about setting up a committee that will look at an Australia Fund to possibly help manufacturing jobs, the government's actually doing it already. As I say, the work the government's been doing is already having a very, very positive effect. The 25 months of consecutive expansion in the manufacturing area is the longest period since 2005. Unfortunately, Senator Carr's not taking part in this debate. He was the minister for industry in charge of manufacturing when all of the motor car manufacturing in Australia shut down, when shipbuilding ground to a halt and when many other manufacturing jobs were lost. That has changed under this government, which has a serious interest in manufacturing jobs and the skilled workers who actually—

Senator O'Neill: Oops! Your government shut the whole thing down. Congratulations!

Senator IAN MACDONALD: Shut what down?

Senator O'Neill interjecting

Senator IAN MACDONALD: No, you don't understand, Senator. You've only been here for a minute. You wouldn't understand that the premise to the shutdown of the manufacturing industry all occurred when Senator Carr was the minister. Senator Carr did nothing and eventually the car manufacturing industry ground down to a halt. And what did that? It was the fact that Senator Carr, as industry minister, did absolutely nothing to help the motor car building industry, the same as he and his party in government did absolutely nothing to help with a sustainable shipbuilding industry into the future. All they could do was complain about Australia not having a shipbuilding industry. They were in government for six years and did not build one ship—they did not even think about building one ship—and did nothing to support the car manufacturing industry and both of them failed. But, since the Liberal-National Party has been in charge, the number of people directly employed in the manufacturing sector in Australia is now almost a million workers. I repeat: 93,100 new manufacturing jobs have been created in just the last 12 months—something that never occurred when Senator Carr and the Labor Party were in charge. More than one million jobs have been created since the Liberal-National government was elected back in 2013.

Senator O'Neill interjecting

Senator IAN MACDONALD: I hear Senator O'Neill shouting about some state election recently, but she never answers the fact that one million new jobs have been created in Australia since the Liberal-National party government was elected.

Senator O'Neill interjecting

Senator IAN MACDONALD: You're right: we don't create the jobs. What we do is create facilities and the parameters so that private industry can invest and can create jobs that are great for Australian workers, because we are the party that is interested in the workers in Australia. We're not the party that only looks after the union bosses and the heavies in the union movement. We are the party that actually creates jobs for the workers in Australia.

Senator O'Neill interjecting

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Sterle ): Senator O'Neill! Ignore the interjections.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: I appreciate the thoughts behind Senator Burston's bill, which, again, is a bill to establish a joint parliamentary committee to look at whether an Australia Fund should be created, for all the right reasons. But I've demonstrated in the short time available to me just some of the things that the government's done that are already doing what Senator Burston imagines the Australia Fund bill might do. I also point out to the Senate that, as I mentioned previously, a similar bill was brought before the House of Representatives in 2014. A committee was set up, and it was informed by a public consultation process and inquiries. It held a number of hearings throughout Australia, including in Canberra, Tasmania and Melbourne. It heard witnesses from a range of stakeholders including industry peak bodies and Public Service officials. Furthermore, the committee received 18 submissions from groups from as wide a field as Oysters Australia, the Australian Prawn Farmers Association and rural business development. Based on the evidence, the committee did not believe that the case had been made from public submissions to support a new fund of the type outlined in this bill. Recommendation 9 of that committee's report stated:

The committee does not recommend the establishment of an Australia Fund.

So I won't be supporting this bill and the government won't be supporting this bill, for the reason that it's already been investigated by a parliamentary committee that decided not to recommend the establishment of a fund. As I've pointed out in my speech, the government has already, in different ways, done the sorts of things that the fund would seek to do if it were established following the parliamentary committee. I say to Senator Burston: in fact, you're repeating or borrowing from the ideas already introduced by this government. I might say Mr Palmer is very good at that, and I always take it as a sign of praise that Mr Palmer also has pinched the idea that I have been talking about for some months now, about a review of the current zone tax rebate system. I see on TV advertisements that Mr Palmer has picked up my idea and is now talking about it. I quite like Mr Palmer, but I say with respect to him that his idea of giving everyone 200 kilometres from a capital city a 20 per cent reduction in income tax just doesn't pass the seriousness test. But I'm hopeful, and I keep advocating to the government that the zone rebate scheme—set up, I concede, by a Labor government in 1945—was a good scheme. It ticked all the right boxes then. It needs review and updating, and it needs an indexation of the benefits. I'm hopeful that the government will hear the calls for a review of that existing zone tax rebate scheme and the analogous remote area allowance.

But thanks to Senator Burston for raising this important issue. It allows me to point out the things this government is already doing to address the concerns that Senator Burston raised when opening this debate.

Debate interrupted.

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